Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Four - The Church of the Slaves

King Cotton

It is a cheap way to gain applause in these days, to denounce the Prussian system; my only purpose is to show that Bible-worship, precisely as saint-worship or totem-worship, delivers the worshiper up to the Slavers. This truth has held in America, precisely as in Prussia. During the middle of the last century there was fought out a mighty issue in our free republic; and what was the part played in this struggle by the Bible-cults? Hear the testimony of William Lloyd Garrison: "American Christianity is the main pillar of American slavery." Hear Parker Pillsbury: "We had almost to abolish the Church before we could reach the dreadful institution at all."

In the year 1818 the Presbyterian General Assembly, which represented the churches of the South as well as the North, passed by a unanimous vote a resolution to the effect that "Slavery is utterly Inconsistent with the law of God, which requires, us to love our neighbor as ourselves." But in a generation the views of the entire South, including the Presbyterian Church, had changed entirely. What was the reason? Had the "law of God" been altered? Had some new "revelation" been handed down? Nothing of the kind; it was merely that a Yankee by the name of Eli Whitney had perfected a machine to take the seeds out of short staple cotton. The cotton crop of the South increased from 4,000 bales in 1791 to 450,000 in 1820 and 5,400,000 in 1860.

There was a new monarch King Cotton, and his empire depended upon slaves. According to the custom of monarchs since the dawn of history, he hired the ministers of God to teach that what he wanted was right and holy. From one end of the South to the other the pulpits rang with the text: "Cursed be Canaan; a servant to servants shall he be to his brethren." The learned Bishop Hopkins, in his "Bible View of Slavery," gave the standard interpretation of this text:

The Almighty, foreseeing the total degradation of the Negro race, ordained them to servitude or slavery under the descendants of Sham and Jepheth, doubtless because he judged it to be their fittest condition.

I might fill the balance of this volume with citations from defenses of the "peculiar institution" in the name of Jesus Christ - and not only from the South, but from the North. For it must be understood that leading families of Massachusetts and New York owed their power to Slavery; their fathers had brought molasses from New Orleans and made it into rum, and taken it to the coast of Africa to be exchanged for slaves for the Southern planters. And after this trade was outlawed, the slave-grown cotton had still to be shipped to the North and spun; so the traders of the North must have divine sanction for the Fugitive Slave law. Here is the Bishop of Vermont declaring: "The slavery of the Negro race appears to me to be fully authorized both in the Old and New Testaments." Here is the "True Presbyterian," of New York, giving the decision of a clerical man of the world: "There is no debasement in it. It might have existed in Paradise, and it may continue through the Millennium."

And when the slave-holding oligarchy of the South rose in arms against those who presumed to interfere with this divine institution, the men of God of the South called down blessings upon their armies in words which, with the proper change of names, might have been spoken in Berlin in 1914.! Thus Dr. Thornwell, one of the leading Presbyterian divines in the South: "The triumph of Lincoln's principles is the death-knell of slavery. ... Let us crush the serpent in the egg." And the Reverend Dr. Smythe of Charleston: "The war is a war against slavery, and is therefore treasonable rebellion against the Word, Providence and Government of God." I read in the papers, as I am writing, how the clergy of Germany are thundering against President Wilson's deceleration that country must become democratic. Here is a manifesto of the German Evangelical League, made public on the 400th anniversary of the Reformation:

We especially warn against the heresy, promulgated from America, that Christianity enjoins democratic institutions, and that they are an essential condition of the kingdom of God on earth.

In exactly the same way the religious bodies of the entire South, united in an address to Christians throughout the world, early in the year 1863:

The recent proclamation of the President of the United States, seeking the emancipation of the slaves of the South, is in our judgment occasion of solemn protest on the part of the people of God.

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